Deity of Christ in the Gospel According to St Luke

The Virgin Birth of Jesus declares his deity

Luke opens his account of Jesus Christ with the miraculous birth of John the Baptist (1:5-25).  He then goes on to announce that Jesus, the One whom John was to precede and announce, would be born in an even more spectacular and unique way, by being born of a woman, a virgin no less, without human father, conceived by God himself when the Holy Spirit, third Person of the Trinity, came upon her.  This was no physical sexual union between a human woman and a god, such as Zeus disguised as a bull or another creature; neither was it some kind of filthy, perverted sexual union, as Sheikh Ahmed Deedat falsely and blasphemously accuses.  No, the holy God would “overshadow” Mary the virgin, causing her to conceive. 

The narrative doesn’t describe what this overshadowing entailed or how she conceived, but “The God who made the world and everything in it… to all mortals life and breath and all things.  From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth….” (Acts 17:24-26); and David writes: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…..My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.  In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed” (Psalm 139:14-16).  So we don’t need to know the mechanics of Jesus’ conception in the womb of Mary because we know that God gives life to everyone anyway; but this conception was unique.  In that womb, God took to himself a true human nature and irrevocably knitted it together with his own divine nature, God and man together as one; true God, true man, two perfect natures in one person – the Person of Jesus Christ. 

The apostle John describes it thus: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn 1:14).  And the apostle Paul writes of Jesus: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).

And his birth was announced to some shepherds by an angel from heaven: “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Lk 2:9).   The angel told them: “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:10-11).  Even though it was lowly shepherds and not kings and great men to whom the announcement was made, heaven itself was present at the birth of the God-man Jesus. 

Furthermore, when Zacharias the priest, father of John the Baptist, in prophesying his son’s future role as the forerunner and herald of the Messiah, said, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins…to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:76-79).

This prophecy is nothing less than a statement that Jesus is Jehovah.  The Old Testament prophecy talks about one who will come before God, preparing the way before Him; the prophecy is from Isaiah.  In part, it says “A voice cries out: In the wilderness, prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God….say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!  See, the LORD GOD comes with might….He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep” (Isa 40:3, 9-11 cf Jn 10:1-18, 26-27; 21:16-17).  This prophecy identifies John the Baptist as the forerunner who precedes and prepares the way for Jesus, and identifies Jesus as being God, for whom the Baptist prepares the way.  It is fulfilled in Luke’s gospel: “…the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…..and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Lk 3:2-6). 

The baptizer with the Holy Spirit

In chapter 3, Luke writes of John the Baptist doing what he was created and called by God to do, and that was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.  In this passage, he points to the superiority of Christ, and that he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  Who else can baptize with God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, but God – in this case the second person of the Trinity?  God himself says, “Who has directed the spirit of the LORD, or as his counselor has instructed him?” (Isa 40:13).  If no living being can direct or teach the Spirit of God, how much less can they baptize with him”.  Only God can do this.  Furthermore, Isaiah writes, “….until a spirit from on high is poured out on us…..” (Isa 32:15).  Who but God can pour out his own Spirit on people?

Thus, Luke is showing us that Christ is God, and confirms what Matthew and Mark said about John the Baptist, the forerunner, proclaiming the coming of the Lord Jesus who is God; and that it is God who is the one to come (Isa 40:1-11).

Power over the forces of nature

In chapter 5, when Jesus told the disciples to take their boat out again, even though they had been fishing unsuccessfully all night, they took their boat and dropped their net, and had a huge catch.  “…when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’” (Lk 5:8).  Peter recognised deity standing right before him, and he was stricken with the sense of his own sinfulness; it is only the presence of God that can produce this conviction.  It only takes a glimpse of God to wake us up to who and what we really are.  When God reveals himself to us in even the smallest way, his holiness is so pure that it highlights all that is impure; and this sense of impurity in the sinner overwhelms him.  How much more overwhelming and terrifying will it be when unsaved sinners stand before God at his throne and must give account to him for everything they’ve ever done?  I’ve heard many unbelievers say that if they do stand before God, they’re going to be asking him some tough questions; some say they will defy him; others that he’ll let them in to heaven because they haven’t done anything really bad; and in fact, they’ve been quite good – certainly better than a lot of other people.  This is all bravado and utter stupidity, spoken in ignorance and vanity.  Those who reject God’s Son will themselves be rejected by God (Ps 2:1-12).

So we can well understand Simon Peter’s reaction when he saw Jesus, and the deity hidden beneath the skin and flesh of Jesus’ humanity.  Anyone who has ever felt the presence of God will identify with Peter.

Jesus claims the same power and authority as God

Power to forgive sins

In the account of the paralysed man who was lowered, still in his bed, through the roof of the house wherein Jesus was teaching, Jesus’ response was to deal with his spiritual need: “When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you’” (Lk 5:20).

The scribes and Pharisees who were present rightly knew that forgiveness of sins is God’s prerogative alone.  “Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, ‘Who is this who is speaking blasphemies?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (Lk 5:21).  But Jesus didn’t try to argue the point that he is God; rather, he put it to the test and demonstrated it in a way far more effective than words.  “When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say, Your sins are forgiven you; or to say, Stand up and walk?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he said to the one who was paralyzed – ‘I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go home’.  Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God” (Lk 5:22-25).  What better demonstration does Jesus need to give that he is indeed the divine Son of God?  He proved his claim to be able to forgive sins by healing the paralyzed man.

In another instance of Jesus claiming the right and power to forgive sins (Lk 7:36-50), we have him eating a meal at the house of a Pharisee named Simon.  As they were reclining at the table to eat, a woman, probably a prostitute, approached Jesus with a box of expensive ointment, washed his feet with her tears, wiped them dry with her hair, kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.  This was an act of worship, gratitude, love, repentance, faith, and sorrow for sins.  However the Pharisee was offended – at Jesus for not recognising what kind of woman this was and allowing her to touch him, and at the woman herself for daring to enter his house uninvited.  Luke writes, “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him I that she is a sinner’” (Lk 7:39). 

Luke is indicating that Jesus knew the Pharisee’s thoughts but didn’t rebuke him for them.  Instead he told him a parable to help him see what was wrong with his thinking, and at the same time demonstrating that he has authority to forgive sins.  As a Pharisee, Simon would have known that Jesus was claiming deity.  He said to the Pharisee, “’…her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’  Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven’” (Lk 7:47).  Even those who were also dining there recognised what Jesus was claiming and they said “Who is this who forgives sins?” (7:49). So Jesus reiterates what he had just said to the woman, and thus emphasises his claim by saying to her again, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (7:50).

Lord of the Sabbath

On one occasion, when Jesus was walking through the cornfields with his disciples, the disciples picked some of the ears of corn and ate them.  The Pharisees saw this and challenged him because it was the Sabbath, and picking the corn was regarded as work.  Jesus referred them to the scripture which talks about how David and his men, as they fled from Saul, ate the shewbread from the altar, having had permission from the priest.  Under normal circumstances this was unlawful but the present circumstance, as David gave it out to the priest, was urgent and needful.  Jesus finished his reply to the Pharisees with the statement, “the Son of man is Lord of the sabbath” (Lk 6:5).

This was a significant claim because the Sabbath belongs to God.  It was instituted by him as the seventh day of the week.  “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation” (Gen 2:2-3).

Furthermore, when God gave the law to Israel, he incorporated the keeping of the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments: “Remember the sabbath day, and to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God……therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it (Exod 20:8-11).

So when Jesus said that he is Lord of the Sabbath, he was making a very direct and specific claim to deity, and identifying himself with the Old Testament God of creation and he who gave the law to Israel, and thereby constituting them as a nation.

Jesus changes the Covenant

When God made a covenant with Israel, he gave them a tangible sign to assure and remind them of his faithfulness and of their obligation to be faithful to him.  For example, when God promised that he would never again destroy the earth by water, he gave the sign of a rainbow in the sky for all to see as an assurance that God had bound himself to keep it (Gen 9:8-17).

Again, when God gave the law to Israel, he gave the Sabbath as a sign of his faithfulness and their obligation (Exod 31:12-17).  This covenant is what we now know as the First or Old Covenant, or Old Testament.  Nobody can abrogate or change this covenant; it was instituted by God and must stand until he changes it or it is fulfilled (See Hebrews chap 8 to 10).

At the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus revealed his deity by abrogating the Old Covenant and establishing the New Covenant.  Luke writes: “Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me’.  And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’ (Luke 22:19-20).

How much clearer does it have to be stated that Jesus is God?  Who else has the right to change the Covenant and the way God relates to his people.  Jesus unequivocally said that he was establishing the New Covenant; and his blood was the sign and confirmation.  Whenever we drink the wine at the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim his death (1 Cor 11:26), acknowledge his deity, and remind ourselves of our New Covenant relationship to him.

Jesus gives his apostles power over devils and sickness

“Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases….They departed, and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere” (Lk 9:1, 6).

What mere human being can give another human being power over sickness and devils?  This is the prerogative of God alone.  It is one thing to say you can give a person spiritual power – anyone can do that; but Luke records that the apostles then went out and did exactly what Jesus told them to do, thus demonstrating by their actions that Jesus does have authority to delegate such spiritual power.

Jesus appoints his apostles as judges over Israel

Jesus said to his apostles, “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you,  just as my Father on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Lk 22:28-30).

Here is another expression of deity.  Jesus claims authority to delegate his apostles to judge the nation of Israel.  The nation of Israel was the people of God, and who would dare usurp God’s rule over them?  But Jesus does – because he is God.  Israel is his people.  In a moving passage, Luke records Jesus’ sorrow as he contemplated the destruction that was about to come upon Jerusalem and the nation of Israel: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  See, your house is left to you.  And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Lk 13:34-35).  Jesus is here identifying himself with the God of Israel in the Old Testament, sending his prophets to his people Israel in his efforts to bring them back to himself – but they would not. 

Darkness at noon; creation acknowledges death of its Creator

When Jesus hung on the cross, the sun stopped shining and the land became dark.  This was not an eclipse of the sun because there was none due at that time; it was a supernatural darkness because the divine Son of God was dying.  “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed, and the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Lk 23:44-45).

Luke records in his other book, “The Acts of the Apostles”, that God shed his own blood to redeem sinners: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28 KJV).

It was no ordinary man who died on that cross – Luke tells us that it was Jesus – God himself, God the Son, who shed his innocent blood and died, murdered by wicked men.

And as he hung on the cross between two thieves, one of them turned to him and, after vindicating Jesus to the other thief, said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Lk 23:42-43).

How could Jesus make such a promise if he didn’t have power to do so?  Was he just trying to make the man a bit more comfortable in his spirit before he faced God by giving him a false sense of security?  No – this would be a lie of the cruellest nature in its effects.  The thief recognised that Jesus was divine; otherwise he wouldn’t have asked him to remember him when he came into his kingdom; he recognised that Jesus had power beyond the grave.  He acknowledged his sin and asked for mercy from the only One who could give it to him.

Ashamed of Jesus

Jesus said, “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Lk 9:26).  God doesn’t condemn a person for being ashamed to identify with another human being, or even of an angel; but to reject Jesus, the Son of Man, is to invite judgment upon one’s self.

Jesus is the fulfilment of prophecy

When Jesus made his great end-times prophecy, he put himself at the very centre of it, indicating his deity, and in control of cataclysmic cosmic events.  “There will signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing nigh” (Lk 21:25-28). 

This will be the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.  And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:13-14 RSV).

In delivering this prophecy, Jesus spoke with the authority of deity: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Lk 21:33).  He’s not saying that his words are of such enduring and timeless value that humanity will never forget them but keep them enshrined forever, such as the writings of Homer or Buddha or Shakespeare – he speaks as God with his own divine authority.  His statement recalls that in the prophets: “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11).

Jesus ascends to heaven

When Jesus had revealed himself to his apostles after his resurrection, “…he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God….” (Acts 1:3), “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they worshipped him…..” (Lk 24:50-52).

“The Scripture quotations contained herein are made from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition copyright 1993 and 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.”  “Published by Catholic Bible Press, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee 37214.